Metro-East News

Appeals court backs St. Clair County ruling: State workers should get full pay

From staff and wire reports

An Illinois court ruled Friday that state employees should get their full paychecks even though there’s no budget authorizing them.

The four justices of the 1st District Appellate Court reversed a lower court decree from Cook County that strictly limited who could be paid without the constitutionally required budget agreement.

The ruling comes two days after Comptroller Leslie Munger cut checks for around 6,800 state employees, paying them for work they’d completed during the fiscal year that began July 1. Munger didn’t wait for the appellate court decision before issuing the paychecks. She relied on a St. Clair County judge’s ruling, just days after the one in Cook County, prompted by a lawsuit by 13 employee unions. The St. Clair County judge ruled that not paying workers would violate the Constitution’s protection of contractual agreements.

A Cook County circuit judge decided last week that without a budget, not everyone could be paid. Those employees who fall under federal labor law must be paid minimum wage, but Munger argued that the state doesn't have the technology to delineate those employees. Munger, a GOP appointee of Gov. Bruce Rauner, appealed, and the appellate court decreed that the state’s “hardship” was not considered.

The St. Clair County ruling stated workers could receive their entire paychecks without a state budget in place. Circuit Judge Robert LeChien issued that ruling. Attorney C.J. Baricevic argued on behalf of union workers.

Rauner and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly have sparred for weeks over how much the state should spend during a fiscal crisis and amid a multibillion-dollar deficit. The state is into its third week of the new fiscal year without spending authority.

"Time will tell what, if any, additional court action occurs," Munger said in a statement, "but I remain confident that paying state employees for their work is the legal, fiscally responsible and right thing to do."

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who argued it’s illegal to spend taxpayers’ money without authority from the Legislature and governor, did not have an immediate comment.

The appellate decision, Munger said, “removes any conflict between court decisions and allows my office to continue paying all state employees.”

The pronouncement is good news for Rauner, a first-year governor taking on entrenched Democrats over the budget. If state employees didn't get paid and stopped coming to work, angry taxpayers would raise such a ruckus the governor would be forced to the bargaining table.

Instead, he is holding out for pro-business and anti-corruption reforms he says will promote economic investment and political trust and increase revenue for the state. Democrats argue they’re non-budget issues, and abhorrent to Democrats’ principles at that, and want to increase taxes to bring in an extra $4 billion they say is necessary for vital services.